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The miracle is life itself
on April 26, 2012
Karen Thompson Walker's THE AGE OF MIRACLES is an extraordinary novel about a young girl struggling with the inevitable changes in her life. Eleven-year-old Julia is going through the same things all of us do as we grow up - her parents are confusing and contradictory, her best friend seems to have forgotten she's alive, and the boy she's had a crush on since forever is as inconstant as the moon (as Shakespeare would say!), acting like her friend one day and a complete stranger the next. Add to all this the changes in her body, the drama at the bus stop, and new challenges at school, and you get a real glimpse into what it's like for a girl on the edge of maturity. Walker's insight into female coming-of-age is remarkable.
And then, on top of it all, there's the novel's setting - THE AGE OF MIRACLES takes place during a genuine catastrophe of astronomical proportions. For some inexplicable reason, the Earth's rotation has begun to slow down, meaning the length of the day is increasing little by little until the periods of darkness and light are so long that it takes multiple twenty-four hour periods just to see the sun rise. The ramifications of this are profound, both on the people in Walker's world and on the world itself. When it's revealed that the Earth's magnetic field has shifted, it becomes very clear that things will never be the way they once were.
The best part of THE AGE OF MIRACLES is Julia's story, and only a small part of that story has to do with the so-called "slowing" of the Earth's rotation. In a way, the science-fiction aspect of the novel is merely a backdrop to the very real and identifiable coming-of-age story. Since the novel is narrated by sixth-grader Julia, we never get any real information on the scientific basis of the "slowing" or the physics of its implications. In structure, the novel reminded me of the recent film ANOTHER EARTH, which was ostensibly about the discovery of a new planet that was a mirror image of our Earth, but was really the story of how one young woman came to terms with guilt. Like the film, AGE OF MIRACLES is ostensibly about the changes our planet must face as its rotation continually slows, but it's really about the changes a young girl must face as she grows up in this ever-changing world.
Walker's thesis is that we can't predict what the future will bring - try as we might to prepare for disaster, things will happen that are unexpected and uncontrollable. Julia's mother hoards canned food, people argue about whether to live "by the clock" or by the rising and setting of the sun, neighbors turn against each other, and the rotation of the Earth continues to slow. And Julia continues to grow up. THE AGE OF MIRACLES is a beautifully written novel that offers a very real insight into the changes we all experience as we live our lives. The miracle is that in spite of everything, we keep on living. I recommend THE AGE OF MIRACLES without reservation. It is a novel you will not soon forget.